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I find airports almost unbearable. The cacophony of sounds is enough to give anyone an instant case of attention deficient disorder. The news screams on television monitors, and airline agents seem determined to outdo CNN by shouting into microphones set to the highest decibel. There are always a few crying babies and a couple of family arguments over starvation versus the high price of airport food. And I do believe that American travelers are in love with their cell phones.
I always travel with a book, and I like to notice what others are reading. To my amazement, many travelers are able to block out the noise and get lost in some sort of reading material. On a recent trip, I looked around and saw a woman reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. The young girl sitting beside her was reading the young-readers version of the same book. I decided that they must be a mother and daughter. Across the way, I observed a baby in a stroller gnawing the rounded edges of the board-book version of Goodnight Moon, while his mother read aloud Ian Falconer’s Olivia to his sister. There was a woman reading something on a Kindle, a man reading World without End by Ken Follett, and another engrossed in Run for Your Life by James Patterson.
It was on this trip that I planned to read Richard Peck’s newest book, A Season of Gifts. I had just started it when a young man sat down next to me and began playing a game on his iPhone. I glared at him each time his phone signaled a victory, and finally he looked over and said, “I don’t like to read. I got sidetracked by sports when I was growing up.” He told me that it all began when he was four and his parents enrolled him in T-ball. Then it was Little League baseball, soccer, and basketball. He took golf and tennis lessons in elementary and middle school and swam on the neighborhood swim team in the summer. There was simply no time for reading. When I inquired about the sports he played now, he said, “None, I got burned out.” I suggested that he try to become sidetracked with books. He simply laughed and said, “Too late.”
I pointed to the baby in the stroller and the baby’s sister and said, “Sidetracked.” I pointed to the mother and daughter reading the same book and said, “Sidetracked.” Then I pointed to the men who were reading and said, “Sidetracked.” He went back to his game, and I made a silent vow that I would boycott the first airline that ever allowed cell phones on board.
When I arrived home, I received a call from a young niece who wanted to thank me for the books I sent for her birthday. She told me that she liked reading but that she didn’t have much time for reading in school. I cannot believe that a member of my own family has gotten “sidetracked.” This time the guilty party is the teacher. My niece, a third-grader, tells me that she has to read for Accelerated Reader, and when she finishes her work, she has to run errands for her teacher. I know exactly what is happening in that classroom. My niece is finishing her work before most of her classmates, and because she has a tendency to become a distraction, the teacher is trying to keep her busy. Why can’t the teacher realize that books would take care of the problem?
In spite of what the young man with the iPhone said, it is never too late to grasp the joy of reading. Parents have a lot to do with developing a love of story. Teachers and librarians play a big role too. Allow your students to get “sidetracked” with books, and I just bet that their love of reading will ultimately satisfy at least one of those instructional objectives that we are required to meet. Better yet, create an objective called “sidetracked by books” and just do it.
After 36 years as a school librarian, Pat Scales is now a freelance writer, children’s literature advocate, and past-president of the Association for Library Service to Children.
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